A little later than in previous years, we are very pleased to update everyone on the Channel Islands’ birds. Two new species were added to the Islands list and unlike some of last year’s (here) they were ‘proper’ species, not those cryptic ones hiding in plain sight. Although Guernsey did add the previously ‘hidden’ Iberian chiffchaff and Caspian gull to their own list in 2018.
With some revisions (Jersey’s saker falcon, probably an escape, was demoted), the overall total for the Islands only actually went up by one so now stands at 377. I was right, last year, that Alderney would add little bunting to their total but they still haven’t reached 300. Losing a bean goose (its become two species and while Jersey can confirm records of both taiga and tundra bean, Guernsey and Alderney decided that they couldn’t retrospectively confirm the tundra version) put them back one, the little bunting brought them back up to 298. The wait for 300 goes on!
And, in the separate islands, Guernsey added the three species above but also saw their first pallid swifts with birds seen in October and November. Offshore Guernsey birders recorded their Island and the whole CI’s third Wilson’s petrel. And, to rub it in with their southern neighbours the royal tern continued to hang around until May and still didn’t visit Jersey.
In Alderney, the impressive effort continued and besides the little bunting, long awaited second records of goosander, Iceland gull and Richard’s and tawny pipits were logged. There were also three records of great egret, a rapidly spreading species, and two of cirl bunting, a species, in contrast, considered to be in decline and exhibiting limited movements. Interestingly, Sark also saw a cirl bunting, their first since, well, a long time ago. Jersey has breeding cirl buntings but they were absent from the Island from 2004-2012 pointing to more movement in this species than had been expected (and look out for more news on this beautiful bird next year!).
Guernsey also recorded local rarities in Canada and pink-footed goose, penduline tit and corn bunting. Sark added records of only rarely recorded red kite, nightjar and hawfinch with their cirl bunting.
In Jersey, besides the two CI firsts, above, the first Island record of Pallas’s leaf warbler meant that a gap in the CI list was finally filled in – there have been 18 previous records of this warbler across the other three islands. There were also seconds for Barolo shearwater, little crake and Caspian gull. The little crake was found in poor health and died in care. A third common rosefinch and third dusky warbler were also notable.
Two further wading birds made contrasting appearances in the islands in 2018 with a Kentish plover recorded in Jersey for the third time since 2000 and six black-winged stilts seen (two in Jersey and four in Alderney). Kentish plover is a former breeder in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney (last breeding in 1974) whereas the stilt was only first seen in the islands, in Guernsey, in 1987 and has now been recorded in 13 separate years.
The full A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands can be downloadedhere
A blog post about cute pigs?! Nah. I’m just throwing you off the scent. Click bait. It is the monthly chough report of course with everything that happened in September.
Scoping out the racecourse
The chough flock spent at lot of time in September foraging around Les Landes Racecourse. There appeared to be plenty of insects available in the soil. Leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) from the looks of things although viewing through a scope a some distance adds uncertainty.
We still have a fair few turn up at the supplemental feed. The noticeable difference is that they are taking less food. Instead of finding empty food dishes within an hour of food being put out we find leftover pellet. Presumably because they have eaten so well out and about in the mornings.
Our rodent-proof food stands mean we can leave the leftovers for the choughs to snack on later. Hunger should not be a problem for Jersey’s choughs this month!
Class of 2019 suffer another setback
Another dead juvenile has been found out on the north coast. The body was found by a dog walker near Devil’s Hole. The lady regularly visits Sorel and knew when we would be feeding so kindly handed over the remains. We identified the bird as PP042 who fledged this year in the quarry. Not a huge surprise as they were on the missing birds list.
The surprise was the condition of the bird…headless and, on X-ray, very broken. You can see shattered bone in the left humerus (circled red in the image below). Our vet was a bit baffled at the post-mortem. The injuries sustained are something he is more familiar with seeing from a bird that had been hit by a car. Plus we don’t know if all this happened after the bird died or before.
We do know this means there are only 11 juveniles remaining. Three of those have not been seen in a long time. If they are still unaccounted for in October we will have to assume the worse.
PP035 is one juvenile very much alive and kicking. She was caught up mid-September because one of her plastic rings was unraveling. Not an easy thing to do for a bird to do. It would have required force. The ring was replaced and this time a lot of glue was used to seal the overlapping edges. She looked in good health and was released straight away.
The flock of sheep at Sorel were moved off site this month as part of their management plan.
There was, however, one little sheep who avoided the round-up. We found her merrily grazing away at the aviary. She had pushed through the fencing and entered the hedgerow bank rather cunningly hiding in the hedgerow when the shepherd was around and reappearing at the chough feed.
With a bit a team work and a lot of patience she was eventually moved out (it gave our push-mower a bit of a break!).
After seven years of working out at Sorel it felt quite eerie to visit and have no sheep and no choughs*. You can still find the sheep in various locations around Jersey doing their bit for conservation grazing. Maybe it could become the next rewilding game #whereswoolly?
*don’t worry we haven’t removed the birds, they do that themselves by flying off during the day.
Flocking season in the Zoo
At this time of year, with breeding over, we normally move all the Zoo choughs back into one aviary. This mimics the flocking behaviour you see in choughs over winter. However, this year was a bit different.
This is the first year we have had only one breeding pair at Jersey Zoo. It is also the first year we haven’t released parent-reared chicks. So that means trying to mix a family of four with the only other chough we have – Gianna.
Normally the other choughs ignore Gianna, but with one family and an uninvited guest in their territory things are a little different. We have made three attempts to mix Gianna with the group this month. The first time we assumed tensions were high because the male in the family had only just been moved back. He had been housed separately for the past two months due to bad behaviour. We gave him some more time to settle in and calm down before the next attempt. No change. We waited again. Surely the hormones had settled? Nope.
As soon as I leave the aviary the pair fly over and shout loudly at Gianna. If I then walk away from Gianna, they dive-bomb her and it gets physical. Thankfully, Gianna is thick skinned and once I’m back inside with her she returns to preening and picking out insects.
Sadly for Gianna I can’t live in the aviary and be 24-hr bodyguard (although the rent would be free). She has been moved back to her off-show aviary and might have to stay in there over winter.
New placement student
If Gianna does have to stay off-show she will receive lots of attention because….fanfare please…we have a student placement again! After more than a year with a vacant position, Flavio has joined the project.
He is with us until March and has already got stuck in to the task at hand. As evident in the video below. Faceal sampling for health checks, camera trap reviews for roost ID, and dealing with a dead chough all in Week 1.
Flavio has previously worked on a beetle conservation project in the UK so we are hoping to put his survey skills to use in Jersey. His mode of transport is a bicycle so be sure to give him a wide berth if you are overtaking – he has an expensive scope in his bag. I wouldn’t want it damaged!
The annual Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting was held in Alderney this year hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust. With the theme of Wilder Islands, delegates attended a two day symposium highlighting work carried out across the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and islands of the British Overseas Territories. Birds On The Edge was represented by myself and Cristina Sellares with Glyn Young joining on the challenging third day.
The third day was a mixture of talks and working groups tackling the challenges islanders face with biodiversity and climate change. Tony Juniper gave the introductory keynote speech.
We were also treated to an evening lecture from Dr George McGavin the esteemed entomologist and patron of the Alderney Wildlife Trust.
A separate blog will be posted going into more detail. The highlights for this report include the mention we got in Jamie Marsh’s talk on the white-tailed sea eagle reintroduction in the Isle of Wight. Guess where we might be taking choughs next? And our first possible sighting of a Jersey chough visiting Sark! Suffice to say our holidays work plans for 2020 are quickly filling up.
Building on the success of the Jersey choughs, can reintroduced choughs help restore Kent’s chalk grasslands? Could we eventually join the Cornish population and Kentish population to bring back this charismatic bird to England’s entire south coast as in days gone by? Ok, that last bit is jumping the gun. Although it is early days, the KCP are certainly working hard to make sure the first aim is achievable.
You can click the link here to read about Kent Wildlife Trust’s vision for a Wilder Kent.
No one can have failed to pick up this week that our environment and the biodiversity that we are a part of is under severe threat. Our very future is being debated. The Great Garden Bird Watch in Jersey may seem trivial by comparison but, like its counterparts in the UK (this year’s 40th Big Garden Birdwatch) and elsewhere, it represents a remarkable piece of citizen science that is truly encouraging in the face of such gloom. Each year, supported by the Jersey Evening Post, we encourage people across the Island to spend time on one day over a February weekend to count the birds they see in their garden, typically with the annual threat of atrocious weather, and tell us how many they see.
During this year’s count, our 18th since we started in 2002, 231 households sent us records of their birds. It wasn’t the highest number that we’ve had back but it has been important in establishing very visible trends, showing how those birds that live the closest to us are faring in today’s world. We need this kind of information if we are going to persuade our governments and those around us that Nature needs our help. Don’t forget, if the birds that have chosen to live closest to us are not doing well, what does that say about our own future?
Counts like this are also good for us, we can watch our birds, enjoy their presence and make ourselves happier and healthier. Proximity to and enjoyment of Nature are well known to help our own mental wellbeing (see discussion here) while another study of people who feed and watch birds found that people generally believed that their bird feeding benefits garden birds. They indicated that natural factors (e.g. bird abundance, disease prevalence) and abiotic factors (i.e. cold temperature) had more of an influence on how much they feed birds than internal constraints such as time and money (see link below). We like feeding ‘our’ birds and its good for their survival and its good for our health.
Back to our latest count (here) Jersey’s counters reported 40 different bird species in our gardens. Well 40 birds and red squirrels. Some birds are very rarely counted and hard to analyse so we base or long-term study of population trends of the 16 most reported species, the Big 16. We don’t include herring gulls as many people actively dissuade them so that counts of them may be skewed. See full results for the Big 16 here
Each year, members of The Big 16 may change position in our little table. In 2019, in order of commonness they were:
Species: Average per reporting garden
House sparrow 6.9
Wood pigeon 1.77
Great tit 1.6
Blue tit 1.6
Collared dove 1.4
Song thrush 0.26
Great spotted woodpecker 0.12
Our honorary bird, the red squirrel, at 0.4 per garden, would have been 12th.
The relative fortunes of the Big 16 over the 18 years of the count can all be seen in our report (here). There has been a slow decline in overall numbers of the 16 with some very obvious losers, species that are losing ground like greenfinch and starling, and winners like goldfinch, wood pigeon and blackcap. One very encouraging trend has been the recovery of the house sparrow, a species inextricably connected with people that had been disappearing from large parts of the British Isles. It’s doing ok in parts of Jersey!
There are some interesting comparisons. We have more of those lovely house sparrows while starlings and blue tits are definitely missing out in Jersey.
So, in Jersey we can see well how our bird neighbours are doing. And it is undoubtedly a mixed picture. We need to highlight what’s happening, we need to continue to help our garden birds and we need to take part in next year’s count. Watch this space!
Read the report Observations at backyard bird feeders influence the emotions and actions of people that feed birds here
Climate change has advanced the breeding season of many species in the UK – but just how much varies markedly across the country, according to a major new study.
The first in-depth analysis into the seasonal timing of certain bird and insect behaviours has confirmed that spring is indeed getting earlier each year – but that exactly how much earlier these events now start depends on where in the UK and in which habitat they occur.
The authors of the report have warned these trends could have serious ramifications for ecosystems, as significant variation between groups of animals in the rates of advance means populations are becoming out of sync with the life cycles of their prey. The 50-year study into natural cycles of egg laying and migration has also dashed environmentalists’ hopes that shaded habitats such as forests are shielding some populations from the destabilising effects of global warming.
Lead author Dr James Bell, who heads up the Rothamsted Insect Survey, said: “There was already good evidence that spring is coming earlier each year, but what we didn’t expect to find was that it was advancing as much in forests as it is in open areas such as grassland.
“Equally, in areas where we’d expect to see much greater acceleration, such as urban parkland, the rates of advance appear to be the same.
“This all points to a complex picture emerging under climate change, which makes ecosystem responses hard to predict, and even harder for conservationists to prepare for.”
An earlier study by the group looking at a 30-year period had shown the average rate of advance varied from about a week earlier for birds and a month earlier for aphids, but the new paper reveals an even more complex picture.
Dr Stephen Thackeray of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) explained: “Our previous research has shown that, in the UK, many signs of spring have been shifting earlier over the last few decades and that this is likely to be driven by climatic change.
“However, we have never before had such a detailed picture of how these changes vary across the UK and its major habitats.”
The study charts the seasonal habits of more than 250 UK species of birds and insects, and shows clear evidence that aphids, moths and butterflies are now on the wing, and birds are laying their eggs, much earlier than they were in the middle of the 20th century.
The long-term changes they uncovered broadly confirm similar effects being observed the world over – that as global temperatures rise, natural phenomena such as flowering, or emergence from hibernation, are occurring earlier each year. But by looking in detail at this long-term data, the team has revealed that the responses of some species to climate change are not straightforward, nor necessarily predictable.
Moths provide a good example of this. As those species that turn from caterpillars to adults early in the year appear to be doing so much earlier. Professor Tom Brereton of Butterfly Conservation said it was unclear what was behind these specific patterns, nor why butterflies did not show something similar: “Whatever the reasons, we should be concerned about how dramatically climate change is affecting butterfly and moth life cycles.”
Bucking this trend towards earlier onset are those birds and butterflies that inhabit farmland, as well as birds who live in coastal habitats – providing possible evidence that other factors, such as declining food availability, are applying a different pressure on these populations and delaying the onset of breeding.
Dr James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the BTO, said: “Birds are at the top of many food chains, and are sensitive to the impacts of climate change on the availability of their insect prey. This work shows how changing spring conditions may affect the ability of birds to find food, and that those impacts are likely to vary across the country.”
A particularly worrying finding of the study is that the rate at which these seasonal behaviours are shifting is the same in open habitats, such as grasslands, as it is in shady ones, such as forests. It had been thought forests might offer some protection for species against rising temperatures. “The work is important because it shows us that we cannot rely on habitat to slow down climate change impacts, even in woodlands and forests where the conditions are more stable, and which were expected to buffer against adverse changes,” explained Dr Bell.
As well as providing more evidence of the effects of climate change, the study also provides the most detailed assessment yet of how many species’ life cycles are determined by geography and altitude. It shows that rather than tracking the simple north-south trend of increasing temperatures and earlier onset of spring, the date of key behaviours of many species follow more complex patterns. So, while aphid activity simply becomes progressively later the further north you go, the same was only true for birds and butterflies up to the likes of Derry, Gretna or Newcastle.
Beyond that point, butterflies become active earlier in the warmer, wetter west than the colder, drier east, while for birds laying eggs, the opposite is true. Dr Jon Pickup, lead aphid researcher at SASA said: “As pests, it remains a concern that aphid migrations are getting earlier at a dramatic rate, and this piece of work shows us that signal across the UK very clearly.”
The study is the result of many years work analysing and interpreting huge data sets, and now lays the ground work for some urgent new research into what is driving these impacts at habitat levels.
“There is unlikely to be a more comprehensive analysis that address both spatial and habitat variations in seasonal timings,” concluded Dr Bell.
Read or download the paper Spatial and habitat variation in aphid, butterfly, moth and bird phenologies over the last half centuryhere
As another year rolls around its time for this year’s annual Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch with Action for Wildlife and the Jersey Evening Post. This year it will be held over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd February. Of course, notification of the coming watch typically leads to a serious change in the weather. Not that it’s been all that nice in Jersey recently anyway but you probably should expect horizontal bird feeders in non-stop hail now at the start of February!
Cold and unfavourable weather is when the birds in your garden become most reliant on your support and so, with them coming to feeders it’s a very good time to count them. I’m often asked whether we should feed the birds, are we making them too dependent on us? Are we affecting their natural behaviour? Well, having done a good job of impacting on their world and starving them out of a lot of it, perhaps we may have to accept becoming a lifeline to many species in an uncertain future. Some of our garden favourites may not die out without us but their ranges may change dramatically and we might have to work hard to see some of them. Add to that a changing climate and those acts of kindness to our garden friends can become a lifeline.
The Great Garden Bird Watch is in its 18th year so we have plenty of counts to use in assessing the recent trends in Jersey’s garden birds. And things aren’t so good really. If we just look at the most recorded species (house sparrow, greenfinch and chaffinch, blue tit and great tit, blackcap, blackbird, song thrush and robin, starling, wood pigeon and collared dove and a few others like pheasant, magpie, jay and great spotted woodpeckers) we see a slow decline throughout the period since 2002. However, if we take out that great garden success story, the wood pigeon, we see a much more dramatic picture. Most people know about the changes in starling numbers, and the disappearance of sparrows from many gardens (strangely, if you’ve got sparrows you probably have lots of them and they have staged a recovery) but blue and great tits aren’t doing so well either. It’s not all bad news though, blackbirds and robins are holding their own. The picture in the UK is much the same where 40 years of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch shows the winners and losers there.
The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically you just need to look out into the garden for a few minutes and write down what birds you see and the maximum number of each species. Oh, and for one weekend a year, red squirrels are birds. I’m not sure what they think about that, maybe they accept that it’s an honour!
Once you’ve counted the birds on your chosen day please fill out the form that you can download here and email in to email@example.com or print and send in to the JEP or drop off at their office. Alternatively pick up a form from one of the Island’s garden centres (Ransoms, St Peters, Pet Cabin at Le Quesnes) or Animal Kingdom and leave it with them.
Everyone who takes part in the count is a citizen scientist and doing their own small bit to help us understand our garden birds that bit better. Most of all though, it’s fun and will remind you how important our birds are to us and how much we need them to help us feel alive and well. And they’ll take your mind off Brexit. So, please fill out your form on one day over the weekend and help us see how our birds are doing. Oh, and don’t forget, squirrels are birds!
Populations of some of Jersey’s rarest plants and animals survive in isolated pockets across the Island, often in places which remain unprotected, and are, therefore, at threat from the growing anthropological impacts on habitats across the land surface.
The Natural Environment, Growth, Housing and Environment, States of Jersey (formerly Department of the Environment) commissioned the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) to determine priority areas for protected species and habitats, and connecting routes between them, in order to aid spatial planning and future protected area designation. The outcomes are based on cost / benefit analysis, providing best economic and conservation value. The report’s authors, Rob Ward and John Wilkinson are frequent visitors to Jersey and well known to Birds On The Edge supporters.
Whilst individual species have previously been assessed on their conservation requirements in Jersey, this is the first time that multiple species (17) have been assessed in the same project.
This study expands on previous efforts by incorporating a wide range of species of varying taxa, ecological roles, traits and conservation status in order to inform an Island-wide plan for maintaining, improving and designating wildlife areas. It highlights areas where improvements to connectivity are most beneficial, and how these may be tied in with other efforts in parallel for maximum return on investment.
In this report, spatial modelling approaches are used to carry out the following tasks:
predict and map the distribution on 17 selected species including toad, grass snake, Jersey bank vole, red squirrel, common pipistrelle, field cricket, lizard orchid and ragged robin
identify the areas of highest habitat suitability for the 17 species, and evaluate how those areas are currently protected
assess which factors, e.g. habitat type, influence the species’ distributions
separately assess species associated with urban environments so conservation priorities can be identified for both urban and non-urban environments
map the most likely wildlife corridors
identify landscape priorities for protection based on their value to wildlife connectivity and current protected status.
The (17) focal species or species groups (genera) selected for species distribution modelling were among Jersey’s protected species and assessed in view of dispersal and movement capabilities. Plants were dominated by orchid species (class Liliopsida) which appear to be better recorded than other flora; perhaps due to their charismatic and overt appearance and specific habitats making them easier to locate and be of greater popularity. Although several invertebrate species were recommended for this study, only the field cricket (Gryllus campestris) had sufficient records. Those species that could not be included at this stage are evaluated later on through other approaches. Long-eared bat roosts (Plecotus spp.) and waxcap fungi (Hygrocybe spp.) were modelled at the genus level as intra-genus members were considered to have similar habitat associations.
Birds were excluded due to a lack of data on nesting sites and their ability to traverse across the Island with ease. However, their needs are accounted for in the report.
The protected species reviewed were highly variable in their movement and dispersal abilities. Given these findings and the overall aim of producing a well-connected network for a wide variety of species, the report authors used a precautionary approach that would allow movement of dispersal-limited species, but that also contained patches with sufficient size to support the most wide-ranging species. Although referring to individual distances and ranges in the review, the area encompassed by a functioning population is considerably larger than that of an individual. Therefore, to provide areas that are suitable for not only individuals, but also entire populations to move through and inhabit, Jersey must ensure those areas are of a sufficient magnitude.
This work supports the decision making processes within Growth, Housing and Environment, States of Jersey, with implications for wildlife conservation, planning and building.
The Birds On The Edge Farmland Bird Monitoring project passed another impressive milestone this month when the 5,000th data sheet was input to the database. That’s 5,000 visits to our 23 transects at 21 sites since 2005. Birds have been recorded in all weather, come hell, high water, horizontal rain, snow and the strange things that go on at some sites around dawn. The exact number of bird records is less easy to count off but, and a record can be one individual bird or a flock of hundreds, it must be well over 250,000 by now. And the number of birds themselves? It may be over 1 million although there are some robins that have been counted more than once. Even on the same day!
During the project we have recorded 171 species and that’s without gulls or birds like gannets that although sometimes visible don’t count if they are way out to sea. Mind you, if any gannet chose to fly over land like the cormorants do then we’d record it! We have never included black swans either but I’ve often thought that we should have – we do count other riffraff like pheasants, bar-headed and barnacle geese and those feral greylag geese that have made themselves at home in Jersey. And a couple of escaped cagebirds, although, with peafowl but unlike those geese, don’t feature in the 171.
The project’s first detailed report Trends in Jersey landbirds 2005‐2015 can be read or downloaded from here.
In 2019 the project will continue to collect data, giving incredible strength to our understanding of the current status of Jersey’s landbirds. So, why not come and join our current stalwart counters Harri, Will, Jon, Jonny, Tony, Miranda, Neil and Ali, Glyn, Hester, Cris, Tim, Hannah and Bea, Neil and Richard. We would like to introduce a couple of new counters into the team to make sure every site is well covered. We are particularly keen for someone to do the count at Sorel (see description here). There are actually two transects at Sorel but you simply walk west along the coastal path for one and back to the carpark through the fields for the other. Its not a hard walk and can be a beautiful site (ok, its not always beautiful if the weather is bad) and is famous for its migratory birds at times of the year and its (definitely countable) choughs throughout the year. As with all our transects, the walk isn’t too difficult and should ideally be visited twice a month.
As a bird surveyor you should be able to identify by sight and sound all of our common birds. It is the common birds that are most important to us as long-term assessment of their status and identification of population trends (up, down or staying the same) are the most important in conservation planning. That’s not to say though that we don’t want to hear about rarer birds – however much I can justify the need to get out there and count the wrens and dunnocks I’m the first to admit that stumbling across a long-eared owl or finding a yellow-browed warbler is always a thrill and, yes, it can be the hope of seeing something like this that sometimes keeps the interest going. But, don’t worry if you think you can’t identify the rarer stuff right now – start with the important birds like robins and wood pigeons and the Richards’ pipits and buff-breasted sandpipers will come. If you are interested in joining the gallant team of counters please read the Jersey Farmland Bird Monitoring Manualand email Glyn at firstname.lastname@example.org
A pair of choughs have been foraging at this site in Corbière (can you spot them?) Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
The choughs continued their travels around the Island this October with reports from Corbière, Noirmont and Wolf’s Lair.
Corbière lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.
Bo and Mary returned to Corbière this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
There have been several reports from La Pulente, the south end of St Ouen’s Bay. However, this may be a case of misidentification. This end of the bay often attracts large numbers of crows due to the rich pickings available at low tide. In amongst those are another corvid relative, the jackdaw. See our guide to corvid identification here
As the tide goes out at La Pulente the birds come in to feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
Jackdaws have a distinctly different call to crows. They are not as prolific in Jersey as they are in the UK. Understandably, if you are not used to hearing the calls of jackdaws and choughs together you could easily misidentify the two species. Of course there is one obvious way of telling the difference; one has a red bill, the other doesn’t. Not easy to spot when driving – most of the reports came from birders in cars.
Jackdaw calls are often misidentified as chough calls by Jersey residents. Photo by Liz Corry.
The difficult thing with all this is that birds can travel around the coast of Jersey much faster than humans. The birders out recording autumn migration numbers will attest to that. It is quite feasible that choughs were at Pulente, but nipped round the corner to Corbière before I had chance to follow-up the report.
View of La Pulente at the south end of St Ouen’s Bay (bottom left) and Corbière on the southwest corner of Jersey. Image from Google Earth.
End of British Summer Time…and the choughs’ travel plans?
When the clocks changed at the end of October so too did the attendance record at the aviary. We are now seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed. Forty-one being the highest on the eve of the clocks going back. That included Earl and Xaviour who have been living out at Plémont all year.
The increase in numbers is likely due to the cold snap and the reduction in wild food resources. Leatherjackets, a chough favourite, emerged as cranefly and spread their own wings removing themselves from the menu. The choughs reliance on the free food at the aviary will likely increase as we go into winter.
A leatherjacket casing in a coastal garden. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs appear to be spending more time foraging around Devil’s Hole and Mourier Valley. At least when the whistle blows for food at 3pm, the majority of the choughs fly in from that direction. They could be fooling us. Probably all are at La Pulente until 2.50pm!
Replacing lost rings
The return of certain choughs to the supplemental feed has made it easier to see who has lost which rings. A catch-up of birds on 28th October attempted to correct this. It took a while to trap the birds in the aviary; the hatches had seized up again despite a check the day before.
It was also a lot harder now there are so many. We managed to lock in about two-thirds of the group and went about the process of hand-netting individuals to check rings.
Bird Keeper Bea Detnon and a very compliant Mauve waiting in line for new leg rings. Photo by Hannah Clarke.
There are several birds we knew needed rings such as Green who had lost all but his original metal ring. Then there were others like Mauve who, on closer inspection, had broken rings creating sharp, hazardous, edges.
All the birds we caught in the nets were weighed and checked over prior to release. There were twelve who got locked in the aviary that we didn’t need.
In amongst this last group was Xaviour who has been missing her orange rings since the start of summer. Unfortunately, she evaded capture. Clearly living out at Plémont has improved her flying skills in close quarters. Since we had already spent an hour catching and processing everyone we called it a day to avoid excessive stress on the group.
Five others still require ring replacements. Weather permitting; we can do that in November.
A new design of feeder to ensure the choughs get food and nothing else does. Photo by Liz Corry.
Work on the new and improved magpie-proof feeders continues. A quick trip home to see family turned into a research and development trip for the choughs. B&M Bargains, Hobbycraft,Aldi, Lidl….ah the joys of mainland shopping…all threw up some new ideas.
The latest and most successful is a rather unusual choice – flower urns. With slight modification to the container depth, they make the perfect magpie-proof feeder. At the cost of £5.99 for two, salvaged wood and paint (hence the colour choice), they are relatively cheap and easy to make.
To end on a non-bird related note…
At the start of October, the waters around Sorel were graced with the presence of bottle-nosed dolphins. Clearly visible from the cliffpath, the small pod followed alongside a Jersey Seafaris rib as passengers toured the north coast. I tried to capture an image of both choughs and dolphins, but, let’s face it, with my long lens focused on the dolphins; the choughs never stood a chance.
Jersey Seafaris tour joined by bottle-nosed dolphins at Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.
For several years now we have compiled a combined list of all birds recorded in the Channel Islands thanks to the recorders from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Each year we’ve seen the lists grow longer and the order the species are listed in keep changing. Today we launch the updated list, updated to the end of 2017 (the Islands don’t review any year’s birds until after the next one starts). Download the list here.
The updated list includes four (well, five) new species, three of which, excitingly, were recorded on two islands each: marsh sandpiper (Alderney and Jersey), (American) royal tern (Guernsey and Alderney) and Iberian chiffchaff (Alderney and Jersey). In fact, the royal tern became quite a celebrity in Guernsey, Alderney and even in Sussex. The tern went just about everywhere. Except Jersey that is. Editor’s note its been around in 2018. And still not been to Jersey!
The other obvious feature for regular readers of this or any other bird list is the changes to the order, relationships and even the birds’ scientific names. Many of us grew up with long held understanding of the order we put the birds in (start with divers and end with crows) and how they were related (divers and grebes, herons and storks). However, new technologies have made it much easier to look closely at every species and get a much better idea of who’s who and where they sit in the order. Wildfowl are first, and not just because they’re very cool but because they and the gamebirds are not that closely related to every other bird. And hawks and falcons aren’t related? No, and strangely that split should have been obvious before.
The list actually includes one, or two, other new species. That goose formerly known as the bean goose has become two species: taiga bean goose and tundra bean goose. Luckily for the list compilers, the Islands’ ornithologists had in recent years recorded which of the two bean geese, then considered the lower rank of subspecies, were being seen. The split, and upgrade to full species status, wasn’t hard to fit in. If everything was always so easy. Our other new bird was a Caspian gull. This eastern version of the herring gull was once considered just herring gull until analysis found that it was quite distinct. Only unlike the geese it doesn’t always look distinct and takes a real enthusiast to pick one out of the flock. Luckily this one’s finder and photographer not only knows his gulls but got a little assist in that it was ringed!
And the totals? Well, overall we’ve recorded 376 species with Jersey still edging in front with 335. So enjoy the new list, tick off your sightings and try to fill the gaps in each Island’s list. And play ‘what will be Alderney’s 300th species’ (I’m going with little bunting). Why not check out the gaps in the list and try to fill them (we’d recommend seawatching in Sark first). But remember, if you visit the islands please send in your records to the relevant recorder – they’re all there on the list.
A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands (updated to December 2017) can be downloaded here
Spoiler alert! Ronez Quarry found the first hatched egg shell of the year on 23rd May. However, there are so many more things to report about from May that we will leave that golden nugget of information for later.
Spreading their wings
Reports continue to come in from both the south-west and north-west corners of the island. The pair roosting in St Ouen’s Bay repeatedly foraged around Corbière Lighthouse, the desalination plant, and the sand dunes. And they are just the places we know about. I suspect they have taken a cheeky gander at the golf courses that lie to the north and south of their roost.
Choughs foraging by the old radio tower at Corbiere. Photo by Liz Corry.
Mary and Bo searching for found near the lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.
Looking at the hard granite around Corbière you would think it slim pickings on the menu for the chough pair. However, if you watch closely they are quite adept at finding tasty morsels. Take a look at this video for example. Not entirely sure what it is they have found, but obviously in high demand.
There is plenty of food on offer closer to the release site. Thanks to a local resident sending in a photo, we found a group of choughs hanging out at a ‘secret’ spot behind Sorel Farm. A horse field currently vacant except for rabbits, pheasant, swooping house martins, and aforementioned choughs. Short pasture, dung, and very little disturbance. Idyllic. For choughs at least.
This is a video of a few in a different horse field by the quarry.
The pair at Plémont are still going strong. They abandoned their nest in a sea cave and relocated to a crevice outside. We have not seen them at Sorel for a very long time. They appear to be finding plenty of food where they are. As the swifts start their summer residency in the same area we could be in for some interesting interactions. It is certainly an impressive sight to see the acrobatic flights of both species together.
On 22nd May four choughs from Jersey Zoo were caught up and transported to Paradise Park as part of our animal collection exchange. The birds travelled by boat in the Zoo van driven by our Head of Operations and a senior mammal keeper.
None of the choughs hold a valid license.
Gwinny, one of the four, has been with us at the Zoo since the very beginning. However, she failed to find a partner who shared her chick rearing aspirations. Maybe she will find her Mr Right in Cornwall.
On the return trip the van was loaded up with four different choughs, two Namaqua doves and a Madagascar partridge (pear tree to follow). They travelled on the freight ferry which meant a 4am, repeat 4AM!!, arrival in Jersey – a fog covered Jersey to boot.
Two new arrivals to a fog bound Jersey at sunrise (not that you can tell). Photo by Liz Corry.
Two of the choughs headed to Sorel where they will spend a month in quarantine acclimatising to life on the coast. We moved Han Solo, Jersey Zoo’s male, to the aviary the day before they arrived.
All three looked to be in good condition. We discovered Han Solo had a new claw growing through suggesting damage at an earlier date. He clearly has not been in any discomfort so no need to treat him.
A new claw growing out after previous damage resulted in loss of the old claw. Photo by Liz Corry.
The three boys will be housed separately to the free-ranging choughs during quarantine with opportunity to socialise (between ‘bars’) at feed times. In fact the first meeting between the two groups happened within minutes of reaching Sorel. Lots of shouting and displaying from the outside group at first thought to be directed at the newbies. After ten minutes of observations it became apparent they were just after the food locked away inside!
If all goes to plan the two males from Paradise Park and Han Solo from the Zoo will be released at the start of July.
In case any of you were curious as to the names of Han’s new friends…Chewbacca and Skywalker of course.
Let the judging commence
Judges visited Jersey’s short-listed contenders for this year’s Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards on May 23rd.
Ronez Quarry nominated our chough project for the work we do in collaboration with them to monitor and protect the wild population.
The quarry has been home to the choughs since the first soft-release back in 2013. This season we had at least eight pairs trying to raise chicks in the quarry.
Winners will be announced on 27th June. There are several awards up grabs with a total prize fund of £3,750. One of the awards is a People’s Choice Award worth £500. Social media voting will begin in June – get clicking!
Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards judges at Ronez Quarry. 23rd May 2018. Photo by Liz Corry.
If we are fortunate enough to receive any money it would go towards providing an educational experience for school groups visiting the quarry. A chance to learn about natural resources, coastal conservation, and of course the choughs. Any remaining money would go towards covering the costs involved in ringing and DNA sexing chicks (approximately £18 per chick).
Wild nest updates
If all goes well then Han Solo and the boys will be joined by several wild-hatched fledglings in July. The day the judges visited the quarry was the same day we discovered the first chicks of 2018 had hatched.
Toby Caberet had found hatched egg shell near one of the known nest sites. Using a handheld endoscope camera we were able to confirm a record number of four chicks in a single nest.
Four recently hatched chough chicks in a nest at the quarry. Photo taken under licence by Toby Caberet.
This is amazing news as this particular pair are first time parents. The chicks are very young. They have a further six weeks before leaving the nest and, as we learnt last year, that still doesn’t guarantee they will make it to Sorel. As long as the parents can find enough insects they stand a good chance.
All the more reason to rejoice in the next bit of news.
(St) Mary had a little lamb, and St John and St Peter…
This month the Manx loaghtan lambs were moved from the farm in St Catherine’s to the grazing site at Sorel. They are now old enough to roam the cliff tops. Still very vulnerable. Bleating can be heard far and wide from ‘lost’ lambs whose mothers are two feet away hidden in the gorse. Please remember to close gates and keep dogs under control. Any mountain bikers, be alert! It might not be a brown rock on the path that you are about to ride over.
Ewes and their lambs are now out roaming free at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
A new grazing site in St Peter’s Valley has become home to another flock of Manx loaghtan sheep brought in to graze the meadows and hopefully improve biodiversity in the area. You can see them if you visit Quetivel Mill, a National Trust property open every Monday and Tuesday (10am-4pm).
Lambs are now out and about at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
And finally, we couldn’t sign off without including the following picture taken by Mick Dryden at Sorel Point. A rare spring migrant to the Island, a honey-buzzard, flying alongside one of our choughs. I bet that was a sight no one predicted they would see five years ago!
Honey-buzzard and chough at Sorel Point. Photo by Mick Dryden.